Nunavut is a region in northern Canada that contains Canada’s northernmost lands. With less than 40,000 inhabitants, Nunavut covers a land area bigger than Mexico, split between mainland North America and an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean.
Picture a blank, ice-encrusted wilderness bound by bad weather with a population density that makes Mongolia seem claustrophobic. Add narwhals, polar bears, beluga whales, and a scattered indigenous population who have triumphantly mastered a panorama so harsh that foreigners could not conquer it.
Nunavut is Canada’s biggest and most lightly populated subdivision, a mythological assortment of the frigid ocean and uninhabited islands on the planet’s geographic and climatic extremes. Visitors here face multiple obstacles, not least perennial blizzards, no roads, and massive travel costs. But those who do get through have the privilege of welcoming inhabitants and awe-inspiring natural wonders and the opportunity of joining a small band of brave trailblazers, safe in the understanding that they are setting foot where few have walked before.
Places to Visit in Nunavut:
The midnight sun adds a mysterious element to travel in the Arctic. Winter is the time of darkness, but in summer, daylight lasts about 24 hours in the more northerly areas. Here are a few places to explore in Nunavut.
Kenojuak Cultural Centre & Print Shop
Though many Inuit villages now produce world-class artworks, Cape Dorset’s remain the most respected. The new Kenojuak Cultural Centre, named after the legend Kenojuak Ashevak, is divided into a state-of-the-art print workshop and an exhibition space where you can watch artists’ work. Most activity happens from September to May. The tour guide is happy to explain the lithograph, stone-cut, and stencil techniques in the print shop, and there’s a great selection of souvenirs and prints for sale.
Quttinirpaaq National Park
The most mountainous and northernmost of Nunavut’s national parks, 37,775-sq-km Quttinirpaaq, is Canada’s second-largest, way up on Ellesmere Island. The majority of frozen crags, topped with deep fjords, old ice caps, sheltered valleys, and vast glaciers, are home to wolverine, musk ox, and Peary caribou. Highlights include Mt Barbeau (2616m), 24-hour daylight, and Lake Hazen Basin. Various trek operators offer multi-day treks.
Angmarlik Visitor Centre
This place near the harbor highlights a model Inuit tent made of animal skins and whalebone, sealskin canoes, and exciting displays on Inuit culture, with popular fishing, hunting, household implements, and archaeological finds. Another collection charts local whaling history and its effect on Inuit life. Elders assemble in a separate room here on weekdays. Make sure the staff explains the game of seal flipper bone Monopoly.
Auyuittuq National Park
Among the world’s most flabbergasting places, Auyuittuq (ah-you-ee-tuk) means ‘the land that won’t melt.’ Fittingly, there are plenty of glaciers in this 19,500-sq-km park, plus rough peaks, dizzying cliffs, and deep valleys. Adventure freaks hike the 97km Akshayuk Pass (crossing the Arctic Circle) in summer when it’s snow-free. Entrance is by boat either from Qikiqtarjuaq ($275) or Pangnirtung (per person one way $150); arrange pickup in advance. Camp in any windproof, safe, ecologically suitable spot. Nine emergency shelters cover the pass.
Things to do in Nunavut:
- Trek or ride a dog: If you visit during the summer months, boating, trekking, and fishing tours in Frobisher Bay are unmissable. In the winter months, dog-sledding tours are a great way to get out and travel the landscape.
- Watch Beluga: Marine wildlife watching is remarkably beautiful in Resolute Bay: pods of beluga and narwhal can be viewed from the beach as they head to their summer feeding territories.
- Enter the untouched land: A ten-minute walk outside a terrain like Rankin Inlet will allow you to enjoy regions that seem untouched by humans. Summer and spring bring wildlife like squirrels, which are omnipresent, chattering perpetually from their perches, as do gyrfalcons, and peregrine falcons.
- April: If you are visiting in April, you are in for a treat. Rankin Inlet marks Pakallak Time with snowmobile races, a sled race, and igloo building. Join them with your family.
- Northern Lights: Seeing the Aurora Borealis is once-in-a-lifetime adventure. This dazzling display of magnetic light can be enjoyed in Nunavut from October until April. Thanks to crystal-clear skies, you are at the best place on Earth to enjoy this mystical phenomenon
Eating and Drinking in Nunavut:
In Nunavut, go local. Try traditional Inuit food, such as raw seal meat. For many Inuit, hunting is still the main way of obtaining food, so many northern foods can be purchased from hunters or local fishers and cooked. Arctic char has been a staple meal for thousands of years. It is a sustainable fish related to trout and salmon valued for its striking color, delicate taste, and health benefits.
In many communities in Nunavut, there is a social law prohibiting all alcohol. Given the high rates of suicide and addictions in many places, towns have felt the need to embrace this extreme position. Do not bring any alcohol into an approved dry community, as you can worsen the local problems with alcohol abuse and even cause someone’s death.